RE: Paragraph numbering - industry standard?

Subject: RE: Paragraph numbering - industry standard?
From: eric -dot- dunn -at- ca -dot- transport -dot- bombardier -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 4 Aug 2005 10:25:44 -0400

"Claire Conant" <Claire -dot- Conant -at- Digeo -dot- com> wrote on 08/04/2005 09:53:51 AM:
> I disagree. The customer/audience doesn't always know what they want, or
> that there is a better alternative than what they ask for.

No argument from me there. Just prove the new way is better than the old.

> That's why
> we are skilled and trained in document design, usability, writing,
> editing, and so on, and they are not.

Really? Most of the design comments seem to be arbitrary personal opinion
to me stacked up against big industry standards and specifications.

> The two are not mutually exclusive. IMO, design IS communication.
> (Edward Tufte comes to mind here.) If you have poor document design, and
> I've seen my share, the writer's message is lost.

True. But those dumping on numbering aren't offering examples of better
design or failures of numbering.

> And numbering is SOOO much easier than writing clearly, or effectively
> crafting a heading, or putting thought into chapter organization and
> page numbering.

That's my primary point. Numbering is so ridiculously easy to implement
considering all the other tasks we have that it shouldn't even be an issue
is the audience wants it or is accustomed to it.

> So are page numbers.

No. Page numbers are USELESS in an evolving document.

> Anyone convert their numbered documents to online help? Numbered
> paragraphs in online help look silly, and are unnecessary.

Really? My biggest gripe using on-line help is that you can't reference
between print and screen easily. And, if you want to comment on it, it can
be very difficult.

Once again, the argument against is "looks silly".

> Are you suggesting substituting paragraph and section numbering for
> indexing - just to save time?

No I'm stating the sorry truth that the effort to index is virtually never

> Sorry, but I think remembering
> "Installation wrap-up" is much easier to remember than "" What
> if the reader is dyslexic? Will they turn it into Then where
> are they? Oops... we just taught them how to hook the widget to the VCR
> instead of the TV. Hmmm. And how many of us have trouble remembering our
> cell phone number? Forget remembering a section number.

Well, you've obviously never been exposed to good numbering and
organisation. Look up MIL specs ATA documentation, contractual
requirements, the Dewey Decimal system.....

> >>If the numbering also has technical meaning, it is also invaluable in
> >>quickly navigating to relevant sections.

> So are hyperlinks. Faster too.

Hyperlinks don't exist in print...

> So is thoughtful crafting of headings. See earlier comments.

And thoughtful crafting of heading PLUS meaningful numbering makes an iron
clad document. You're making this into an either or argument. I'm not.

> Has anyone ever done a study of readers about number recognition versus
> word recognition? If so, that would be interesting to read.

Have you ever used a big document set with thousands of headings? Or tried
to find a figure by title amongst hundreds of figures?

> This would be a flaw in design. Good document design makes it very
> obvious.

Perhaps. But precious few TWs have enough design knowledge to claim they
are knowing what they are doing. Plus, it's not either/or.

> I still have not heard any convincing argument to sway me from my
> opinion that numbered headings/paragraphs remain simply because that's
> what people have done in the past and "that's what they want".

And that reason above is completely irrelevant if you are in an
organisation that has a set way of doing things and YOU want to make the
organisation change. You have to convince them. They do not have to
convince you.

> Ever hear the story of why Grandma cut the ends off the roast each
> Thanksgiving? Daughter, grand-daughter, and great-granddaughter all
> continued the tradition because "that's the way it is done", when in
> fact, it was because Grandma didn't have a pan big enough.

That's a stupid example. All it shows is poor communication of procedure
between generations. Plus, in that example, it would be SIMPLE to prove
the step is unnecessary.

You still have to prove the worth of the change, not justify the old

Eric L. Dunn
Senior Technical Writer


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RE: Paragraph numbering - industry standard?: From: Claire Conant

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